Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wildwood: A New Modern Classic

Prue McKeel's life is ordinary. She lives in Portland, Oregon where it rains a lot. She has a mother and a father and a baby brother. Ordinary. At least until her brother is abducted by a flock of crows. And so begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics and powerful figures iwth the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something  much bigger as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness.

Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decemberists has hit a home run with his debut middle-grade fantasy novel. Prue and Curtis are wonderful characters, and I love the way that Curtis transforms in her eyes from being a pesty, and annoying boy from school to a true friend worth fighting for. It was quite delightful to see a story that focuses on a boy-girl friendship and not crushes or dating, and have it work. I also loved that Prue is a strong girl, and she figures out ways to get herself out of trouble, and never needs rescuing.
Early reviews have compared this to Narnia, and I have to admit, that while I was reading, I did see echoes of Narnia. The Governess reminded me very much of the White Witch from the Narnia books, and at times, Curtis and Prue made me think of Edmund and Lucy. Curtis is a bit of an outsider, and he eagerly laps up the praise and attention he receives from the Governess. While I immediately suspected that her motives were less than pure, that might just have been my familiarity with Narnia that made me suspicious.

Prue is spunky, courageous, and quite a sensible girl. When her brother is snatched by the crows, she wastes no time in making the decision to go after him through the Impassible Wilderness, even though it should have been impossible. Once through the woods, she encounters a bureacracy the likes of which would put any city to shame, has a meeting with a stately owl who is prince of the avains, and gets drawn into a revolution between the two ends of this magical world. Curtis is awkward and shy, but fiercely loyal, When he's given the opportunity to leave Wildwood, he chooses to stay and fight with his new friends.

Adding some comic relief to the story are a merry band of bandits, and a pretty clueless mouse. The bandits definitely draw from Robin Hood in that they only steal from the rich, and though they do drink and smoke, they are courageous, loyal and endearing. Integrity, loyalty and courage are key themes in this story, as well as the importance and strength of family bonds.

Aside from great charcters and a fast-moving story, I liked the fact that the story took place in real time. For about the first third, once they went into the woods, I waited for time to stop, or to discover that it moved differently there, but Meloy never resorted to using that device. I also liked the subtle environmental messages in the book about connecting to and protecting nature.

The language is sophisticated and lyrical, and it's another book that really begs to be read aloud. The publisher suggests 8-12 as a reading level, but I'd suggest 10 and up for independent reading due to its length and complex storyline. Planned as a fantasy trilogy, the first book works well as a stand-alone, but I am absolutely looking forward to seeing what further adventures lie in store for Prue and Curtis.